Elsewhere in the garden

I’ve long been inspired by our native bushland, particularly heath and grassland communities. But as those who have experienced the notion that ‘Australian native gardens don’t need any work’ find out the hard way, just shoving lots of plants into the ground doesn’t result in an attractive landscape. While my garden has worked rather better than that I’ve never quite managed to achieve the look I was after. As many of my original plantings are now starting to go downhill it is definitely time to give it another go. 

The practical inspiration for my garden renovation has come from two books that I read over the winter months. First off was The Layered Garden: design lessons for year-round beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David L Culp with Adam Levine. In this book Culp ably demonstrates how to make a garden with year round interest, based on a woodland approach in his own garden in Pennsylvania.

The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage

At first Planting: a new Perspective, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, with a very scary array of planting guides seemed rather daunting, but the authors use the planting schemes to demonstrate a basic formula for planting that promotes interest throughout the year. This is a mix of plants that are fixtures of the garden year round and those that literally or figuratively disappear or recede for long parts of the year. I’m probably not explaining this too well, so I urge you to give the book a go. I found it a pretty interesting read with lots of wonderful illustrations to go with the words.

Planting: A New Perspective

So where to begin. My choice of ground to start this work, as you can see, is not very promising,but it is on the other side of the yard from where we found the termites. Until the termites go I can’t dig where they might be disturbed. This will be a garden renovation of many parts.

A sorry piece of ground for a new garden!
A sorry piece of ground for a new garden!

I spent the morning clearing the area. At least the chooks were happy to get all the weeds that I dug out. By the time I finished the initial digging and adding some compost things were looking rather better. The space is only about 1.5 metres square so its not a lot to start with.

Newly dug over, things are looking up for my garden.
Newly dug over, things are looking up for my garden.

I spent the next few weeks adding a lot more compost and doing a lot more digging in of manures before I started planting. My feature plants are two varieties of pink flowering Correa, Correa pulchella X ‘Pink Carpet’ and Correa ‘Annabell’; the yellow flowering shrub Ozothamnus diotophyllus ‘Gold Dust’ and Zieria prostrata ‘Carpet Star’. The taller plants will grow about 1 metre in height and the two ‘carpet’ plants will spread between 1-2 metres. I’m also using Pelargonium rodneyanum (Magenta Cranesbill) as a filler plant. This will gradually spread around the garden and can be dug out if it gets too exuberant. The remaining plants in this area are ephemeral annuals. I’ve included plenty of Wahlenbergia sp (Native Bluebell) and several plants of the Bulbinopsis bulbosa (Bulbine Lily).

The Bulbine lillies are still flowering wildly attracting plenty of Hoverfly’s which are a great garden predator, as well as a common pollinator of Australian plants.

A hoverfly pollinating a Bulbine Lily
A hoverfly pollinating a Bulbine Lily

I’ve also dug out and divided a clump of one of the most striking of our local plants Eryngium rostratutm (Blue Devil) which has the most stunning spiky blue/purple flowerheads. I’ve planted the new pieces in several places around the garden to encourage the spread of this handsome plant.

You can see from the photo below that I aim to keep the majority of the plants in this part of the garden fairly low. This allows the winter sun into the front of the house.

The new section of front garden.
The new section of front garden.

I’ve also extended some of the planting into the existing garden, adjacent to the new section. I hope in this way to start integrating the newer plantings with the existing garden. At least I’ve managed to get some of those poor plants that I bought pre-termite  moratorium, into the ground. Now I have to go and pot on the remaining plants so they can survive until I get the all clear to continue the renovation.


Over the fence

Like most keen gardeners I’m always keen to see what is growing over my neighbours’ fence. Come spring and the upswing in gardens open to the public through the Open Garden Scheme I can indulge myself without fear of legal action.

This past weekend we went and visited a garden full of Australian native plants in Aranda. This garden is 10 years old and has been created on a steeply sloping site.


The current owners decided early that they would only grow native plants. While they were orginally interested in having a specimen garden, showcasing one off plants such as this Emu Bush…


and this Scarlet wattle


they subsequently developed a broader focus on the plants of the Southern Tablelands.

What I always find interesting is how people choose to display their plants. In this case two different coloured Hardenbergias have been displayed as ‘weeping’ forms, rather than the usual way of letting them sprawl over the ground.


By coincidence, on Gardening Australia this past weekend Sophie Thompson was showing how to train a Hardenbergia as a climbing plant over a fence.

One thing I did admire was the owners’ small bowl of native Greenhood orchids – not an easy plant to grow. I believe I even heard myself saying to the owner “I do envy you your Pterostylis”. (Just the sort of dead posh thing one wants to be able to say to a fellow enthusiast!). Small but perfectly formed as they say.


The steepness of the front of the block would be a challenge to anyone. After heavy rain the garden kept moving downslope so the owners put in swale drains to slow the water down and provide a slow release of water into the garden.


It certainly has done this Grevillea sericea (the Pink Spider Flower) the world of good.


If you are inspired there are plenty of local gardens to suit all tastes and interests on display in Canberra and surrounding districts. You can get an idea from the Open Gardens website (link above) and check out the Visit your state and Special events buttons. Just be warned these are not complete listings, you’ll need the book for that (available from your local newsagent) .

One Open Garden coming up at the end of this month and recommended by TB and myself, is the Allsun Organic Fair, at Gundaroo on 30 and 31 October, which displays not only organic gardening techniques, demonstrations and talks, but has a great range of stalls, including yummy food – allow yourself a good half day.

If you are interested in buying some native plants the Australian Native Plant Society, Canberra Region, is holding one of its plant sales on
Saturday 16 October, 8.30 to 2.00pm or until sold out (our advice – go very early) in the Southern Carpark of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.